VHS flag football tryouts underway

May 23—VALDOSTA — The winningest high school football program in the nation will make a different kind of history this fall.

Valdosta High School held its first girls flag football tryout Monday at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

"First off, I just want to give thanks to the superintendent, the Board of Directors, everybody for allowing this historic moment to actually take place," VHS head flag football coach Sandy Turner said. "For me, I'm a history major so I keep up with history and I know the history that's here at Valdosta High School. I understand that we're making history during this time — the first ever girls flag football (team)."

Two hundred hopefuls signed up with the goal of being part of the 40-woman roster this fall.

According to Valdosta City Schools Athletic Director Reginald Mitchell, flag football has been in the works for two years with the initial plan failing to launch in 2021.

After a lot of planning and hand-wringing, Valdosta Wildcats flag football is on the way.

"We're ecstatic," Mitchell said. "We're excited for these young ladies. This is another opportunity for them to participate with something they can do at their school. Not all the girls can shoot a basketball. Not all of them are track stars. Not all of them are able to play softball, but some of them will come out here and pull a flag.

"We tried to start this a couple years ago and it just didn't come to fruition and now it's here. We had a good turnout in my opinion and we're excited about what's about to happen with girls flag football."

Adding a flag football team to Valdosta's rich football tradition is something Mitchell takes immense pride in as a former Wildcat.

After the first day of tryouts, Mitchell gave an impassioned speech to the camp hopefuls. The biggest message from the speech was daily improvement. "Good, better, best," Mitchell began. "Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best. We want to be the best. At Valdosta High School, that's what we strive for."

"We want these young ladies to understand the shoulders that we're standing on, all of us," Mitchell said. "We want them to really understand the tradition at Valdosta and being a Wildcat — helping them understand that when you wear Valdosta across the chest and it's black and gold, everybody expects us to do well and be successful and win. We want to make sure we start out of the gate instilling that into these young ladies. I do have a plan to take them all in the museum so they can see the historical tradition of this place. It's important. It's important that they understand tradition. Without tradition, man, you really don't have anything at a school. We're excited for these young ladies."

On Day 1, the girls were put through a variety of speed and agility drills and had their fitness and endurance tested under the south Georgia heat.

After getting the first day down, Turner was pleased with what he saw from the girls.

"I see a lot of talent out here. The thing is, we've got to cultivate that talent into hard work, making sure that these young ladies understand the tradition that goes along with being here at Valdosta High School," Turner said. "I saw a lot of things that I liked, saw the girls going hard. Some things we can tighten up, we can make better, but today I thought we got at least one percent better and I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Turner, Mitchell, assistant coach Wes Carter and assistant principal Kendrick Moody each manned stations with stopwatches in-hand — pushing the girls through each series of drills.

The tryout ended with several girls getting clocked for their 40-yard dash times. For most of the girls, it was their first taste of football from a physical standpoint.

After Monday's initial practice, the plan is to add a football and flags then progress into technical skills as well as offensive and defensive concepts on the field.

"I'll be coaching the offense, calling plays and installing the offensive system and getting us ready to hopefully score a bunch of points," Carter said of his role with the team. "Today, I saw some good things — a lot of girls that are new to this sport and new to football, so we've got a long way to go but there was definitely some positive things that were out there today.

"When Coach Mitchell brought it up two years ago that we might be doing this, I was so excited for it. I played the game during college and after college a ton so I was hoping that it would come to be and now that it's here, it's definitely exciting."

According to Mitchell, while a hard date has not yet been established, the inaugural VHS flag football season will kick off at the conclusion of volleyball and softball season.

There were a couple of multi-sport athletes present on the first day of tryouts such as girls sophomore basketball player Makiyah Brewton and sophomore tennis player Loughren Haden.

"The GHSA allowed us to have this week right here to get it started as far as tryouts are concerned," Mitchell said. "We will have some summer work going on as well. Then, it'll roll right into the fall season so the time that it starts, it gives those young ladies that are multiple sport athletes that may play softball or volleyball to give them a chance to participate in that and still be able to play girls flag football. We're going to have two teams starting out the gate — a varsity and a JV. We're gonna have 20 young ladies to each team so a total of 40 young ladies. We're looking for the best of the best. I liked what I saw today. As we just told the young ladies, we want to make sure they bring attitude and effort. We'll get them through this."

With the aforementioned varsity and junior varsity rosters to fill, Turner was asked what a player that makes the team must exhibit to earn a spot on the team.

"Effort and intensity — that's what we're looking for," Turner said. "We're looking for girls that have effort and intensity and with this coaching staff here, we've got a motto and it's not arrogance. We say we're the B.E.S.T. and the B.E.S.T. is the acronym for Building Each Step Together, and that's what we're doing. We're trying to build something here and we want to make it the best that we can possibly make it. If we get a lot of young ladies that are coachable, show a lot of effort and a lot of intensity, we can do great things."

Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.